By: Kyle Massey - Arkansas Business
Former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is launching a national solar power development collaboration with “the best players” in the industry to maximize the use of American-made components, with his own Scenic Hill Solar projects as a test subject.
The initiative, dubbed American Made, Arkansas Built, partners Scenic hill with four leading American solar equipment manufacturers and technology providers, including one with operations in Blytheville.
"The idea isn’t only to advance the use of American-made technology in the Scenic Hill power plants," Halter said, "but to also position Arkansas for national leadership in the fastest-growing industry in the world."
Spurring domestic production of essential technologies has become a national priority, and the collaboration will involve the nation’s largest inverter manufacturer, the world’s largest single-axis tracking system manufacturer, the largest independent steel pipe and tube manufacturer in American, and a leading U.S.-based developer of lithium-ion cells and integrated storage technologies.
And, of course, Scenic Hill Solar of Little Rock, the solar plant builder and operator that Halter founded after leaving politics.
The players include Yaskawa Solectria Solar, a wholly owned subsidiary of Yaskawa America Inc. of Lawrence, Massachusetts, the largest inverter manufacturer based in the U.S., Halter said. Mark Goodreau, its general manager, said the company looked forward to putting its photovoltaic inverters and "best-of-class components" into Scenic Hill projects.
Dan Shugar, CEO of Nextracker, the leading global manufacturer of the systems that help solar panels follow the sun, said in a news release that the initiative signals that "we are on the cusp of a U.S. manufacturing renaissance, especially with the domestic manufacturing incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act." He said the collaboration will put Americans to work building "products that power our homes and businesses safely for the future."
Barry Zekelman, chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries, the steel pipe manufacturer, said his company’s new facilities in Blytheville "and others across the United States are among the cleanest steel pipe and tube manufacturing facilities in the world." He said in the release that it’s proper that America’s solar infrastructure should be built "by companies that make it here."
Halter told Arkansas Business in a telephone interview that through the collaboration, the companies will benefit in efficiency and value. "It’s always been a frustration to me that Arkansas is 48th and 49th in every statistic that matters," he said. "Everybody here understands 'thank God for Mississippi.' But we have a lot of natural advantages in the Natural State, including an abundance of clear flat land and the 10th largest amount of sunshine” among the 50 states. "We’re also at the nexus of regional transmission organizations, SPP and MISO."
KORE Power, the lithium-ion cell developer, is also involved. "The American Made, Arkansas Built initiative aligns with our vision of domestic, clean energy supply chain," said Jay Bellows, KORE’s president.
First Solar will provide solar modules for certain Scenic Hill projects under the plan, Halter said. Founded in 1999, First solar is the only U.S. headquartered company in the global top 10 in solar panel production. "We believe in the potential for our country’s energy transition to be powered by American ingenuity and innovation," said Georges Antoun, First Solar’s chief commercial officer. "Scenic Hill’s effort in identifying key elements of this domestic value chain demonstrates that this potential can be realized."